On any day, a walk through Central Java’s bird markets will net you dozens of Indonesia’s endangered bird, reptile and mammalian species. The auburn-coated orangutans from Kalimantan, Sumatran tiger cubs that are bordering on extinction, baby sea eagles, the almost extinct white cockatoo from Papua, a veritable barrel of Sumatran gibbons, and a Sun Bear or two thrown in for good measure can all be had for the asking.
These animals are destined for the backyards of the wealthy, chained to dead tree limbs and shown off when guests visit. Or in the case of Sun Bears, these honey-loving bears from Kalimantan will have their paws cut off, their livers cut out and their blood bottled to make traditional Chinese medicines as Trisha Sertori writes.
These are the animals that the Yogyakarta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (PPSJ) — a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to animal rescue, rehabilitation and release, and education on conservation for the public — searches out in the bird markets, in back alleys, caged behind shop fronts or dumped in garbage piles.
And there are those delivered to the center by disgruntled owners who are no longer enamored with their now adult gibbons, so unlike the cute and cuddly babies they once were.
Trapping, selling and buying Indonesia’s endangered wildlife is illegal, says zoologist Sugihartono, who heads the PPSJ, but the money to be made, the ease of passage from the archipelago’s outer islands to Central Java’s bird markets and a failure to enforce the laws protecting the nation’s wildlife wealth means it’s open slaughter.
“There are laws protecting these animals. According to Law 5, 1990, people caught dealing in protected species face five years in prison or a Rp 100 million fine. But it is not enforced,” said Sugihartono.
“For example, two years ago we caught a guy selling eight Kalimantan orangutans in Semarang. He went to court but got off with a month’s warning not to be caught dealing in protected wildlife. If caught within that month, he’d face the fine,” he said, with evident bitterness at the leniency of the punishment.
He adds that the orangutans also disappeared following the trial.
“We demonstrated every day of that trial, but to no avail. I feel very angry and very sad because I see that the process of law is not applied and it seems the police and the courts do not know about conservation,” he said. “They need to learn the importance of Indonesia’s natural heritage that is fast being lost.”
And when it is understood that for eight orangutans to be in a Semarang market has cost the lives of 40 other orangutans, the horror grows.
“We need to understand that for one orangutan to make it to market means three mothers were killed trapping three young. Two of the young die in transit, so for every one orangutan found in the market, five have died,” Sugihartono explained. “It’s tragic, and when that is coupled with loss of habitat through illegal logging and fires, you can see extinction written on the walls.”
Rehabilitating these animals for release back into the wild is a long, slow and costly process, he continued, but highly worthwhile.
He recalled one orangutan found bound hand and foot in a sack, then thrown onto a burning rubbish heap.
“We rescued that orangutan and when it was healthy enough to travel, it was sent to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Kalimantan. We work with several rescue and rehab centers throughout the country,” he said.
But the story of Sumatran gibbons rescued and now living at the PPSJ has no happy ending. According to Sugihartono, these magnificently arboreal primates can be rehabilitated, but never sent home to the jungles of Sumatra.
“There is no longer a home for them to go to,” he said, stroking the human-like hand of one of the dozens of gibbons now trapped in no man’s land.
“We can’t send them back to Sumatra. Their forests are disappearing too fast and the minute we released them, they’d be shot. Sending them home is a death sentence,” said Sugihartono, acknowledging that he is watching extinction of Sumatran gibbons in action.
To prevent this inevitable extinction and offer the PPSJ gibbons a home, what is desperately needed is the creation of a gibbon sanctuary in Sumatra, he said, but to date no one has stepped up to the plate with the land or funds needed.
The news is better for the six Sun Bears discovered caged at the back of a Chinese herbalist’s shop on Yogyakarta‘s Jl. Malioboro. The Sun Bears from Kalimantan had been bought at a Central Java bird market and were destined to be killed for their paws, a highly valued but possibly useless ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines.
“We found them in cages at the back of the shop. Fortunately, we were able to save them all. Rehabilitation and release is successful with Sun Bears. We have sent five Sun Bears home in the past and these will also be returned to the wild,” said Sugihartono, spraying water to cool down one happy Sun Bear that looks cute — until she roars and flashes her 10-centimeter claws in warning.
As well as mammals, bird life is also under threat across Indonesia, said Sugihartono, citing the six white cockatoos left in the wild in Papua, the 200,000 migratory birds trapped annually and cooked for sale in Indramayu, West Java, and the rare Java Sparrow that has made its home in Prambanan Temple, Central Java.
“The greatest population of Java Sparrows in Java is just 40 birds. They breed at Prambanan Temple, but the management there cleans out the nests and eggs every year, so we are losing them also. We tried to convince the management that the birds are endangered and need protection, but the nests are still being swept away,” said Sugihartono.
The short-sightedness of aiding the endangerment or extinction of a species through trapping or outright shooting is staggering, according to Sugihartono.
He tells farmers the value of raptors, the birds of prey so often captured and sold as status symbols without recognition of the role these birds play in the health of rice fields.
“Every day one raptor will kill five rats. That’s 1,825 rats a year. And that does not take into account that those dead 1,825 rats won’t be breeding. The figure then is exponential,” he said.
“When the raptor is removed those rats have less predators and thrive on the rice fields, costing the farmers much of their harvest,” said Sugihartono, adding that the rehabilitation and release of raptors was often very successful.
“We have rehabilitated and released many raptors. Rehabilitation takes at least a year as the birds relearn how to live in the wild.
“It’s crazy, these birds sell for around Rp 100,000 in the bird markets. The cost just to release them back into the wild is as much as Rp 20 million. It would be far better if there was greater enforcement of the laws protecting these species and education on their importance,” said Sugihartono.
And education is another arm of PPSJ’s conservation work, with PPSJ staff and volunteers visiting schools weekly to teach the younger generation about their natural heritage and how to protect it.
But at the rate of habitat and species loss across Indonesia, these kids may never have the opportunity to put their conservation knowledge into practice.
‘Adopt an Animal’ program
Funding the rescue, rehabilitation and release of Indonesia’s illegally captured wildlife is an expensive exercise.
Feeding, housing and preparing just one sea eagle for eventual release into a national park costs Rp 81,000 per month.
Rehabilitating and releasing an orangutan costs Rp 191,000, and a cassowary Rp 258,000 per month.
Over the past year, the Yogyakarta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (PPSJ) has housed, fed and rehabilitated almost 600 animals at a cost of around Rp 450 million.
To help in its fund-raising efforts, the center has started an animal adoption program through which the public can “adopt” an animal at the center.
Adoptive parents can choose the animal they wish to sponsor through the rehabilitation and release process.
For more information on the program, contact the PPSJ at (0274) 7493977 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indonesia’s wildlife disappearing act
Indonesia’s reputation for loss of species is growing legendary.
In 2003, the IUCN-The World Conservation Union identified in Indonesia that:
147 mammal species were on the verge of extinction
114 bird species were on the verge of extinction
91 fish species were on the verge of extinction
28 reptile species were on the verge of extinction
28 invertebrate species were on the verge of extinction
Four years later, it is reasonable to believe the numbers of species under threat of extinction has grown, and that some of these species have already been lost forever.